- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The parents of a woman who was murdered in 2011 are calling for a new law that would protect Oklahoma workers from termination or demotion if they miss work due to court hearings in support of their loved ones.

Michael and Faye Taylor, the father and stepmother of 23-year-old Ashley Taylor, say their late daughter’s namesake law would strengthen the rights of victims’ families. They plan to have a draft to take to the Legislature for consideration in its next term and have already reached out to some lawmakers about their proposal.

Ashley Taylor’s throat was cut by her fiance, Kevin Sweat, who also confessed to a judge in July that he gunned down two Weleetka girls in 2008 as they walked along a dirt road in rural eastern Oklahoma. Sweat entered guilty pleas to three counts of first-degree murder days before his trial was to begin. He’s awaiting sentencing, likely to come later this year.

Michael, who works as a paramedic, estimated that he has burned through dozens of vacation hours in the past three years attending court hearings. He also said he worked 48-hour shifts to bank around 400 hours of time off in case Sweat went to trial. Faye Taylor, a nurse, used up all of her vacation time, opting several times to attend a hearing instead of getting paid that day.

While Oklahoma currently assures victims’ families they have right to attend court proceedings and calls on employers to “minimize an employee’s loss of pay and other benefits resulting from court appearances,” it doesn’t specify what protections that worker has.

Michael Taylor said Ashley’s Law would shield employees from companies that might retaliate for time missed through demotions, reduced hours or termination after the employee returns to the workplace.

“Family members should be allowed to (attend court hearings); it was helpful to our peace of mind that we could see that people were … seeking justice for our daughter,” Michael Taylor said.

The family’s case involved more than two dozen hearings over three years, just during pretrial phases.

“Both our jobs were great about it; they never told us ‘no,’ and they did what they could for us,” Michael Taylor said. “But even with that, in the back of our minds we’re thinking, ‘How long are (our employers) going to let this go on?’”

The Taylors’ proposal has been met with positive reaction among some lawmakers.

“We’re certainly going to be willing to work with Michael Taylor,” said Matt Glanville, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman. “We’re sensitive to the issue.”

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